The vitally important spud has experienced a decline in favor in recent years and is seen by many as “junk food”. This is due in part to the popularity of low carb diets, and the unhealthy ways we process potatoes that make us ask, are potatoes good for you?
The humble potato is a staple food of many cultures worldwide. Peru, Bolivia, and Ireland rely heavily on the potato in their cultural dishes and daily cuisine. Potatoes have been an important crop in the Andes region going back thousands of years. They were brought to the rest of the world in the 16th century.
This article will explore the reasons why potatoes can be a nutritious and low cost staple of your plant-based diet, and some of the myths surrounding this versatile veggie!
The low carb craze vilifies all carbs
The low-carb diet craze is back. Along with the Atkins diet of the early 90’s, the ketogenic, and carnivore diets of today encourage little to no intake of carbohydrate foods. These diets vilify all carbohydrates, from less nutritious to highly nutritious foods like potatoes.
While following a plant-based diet, carbohydrate foods are important sources of vitamins, minerals and proteins that we don’t want to miss out on! Avoiding carbs while eating plant-based becomes very restrictive, and for no good reason!
Cooked potatoes are considered to be a high GI (glycemic index) food, meaning they contain starch that is easily digested and raises blood sugar. This has led to advice to reduce potatoes in the diet, and to choose foods lower on the GI scale.
However, just preparing potatoes differently, like cooling them before eating, lowers their GI value. Combining starchy foods with other foods higher in protein or fat also lowers the food’s effect on blood sugars.
Research suggests with an overall healthy diet, the glycemic index value of individual foods does not negatively affect health.
Are potatoes bad for you, or is it a problem with the way they’re processed?
There is no doubt that less nutritious potato products exist. Deep-frying and chip manufacturing takes away a lot of the nutrients from potatoes and adds some less desirable components like extra sodium and unhealthy fats.
A small serving of potato chips has essentially none of the beneficial nutrients you would get from a less processed serving of potato.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that fried and processed potatoes are linked to higher risk of death and unprocessed potatoes are not.
The problem is then not with the potato itself, but with the way they are commonly prepared. All foods, including potato chips, can fit into a healthy diet, however potatoes can be prepared in more nutritious ways!
Why are potatoes good for you?
Consider a small baked potato. It’s low in fat, contains 3g fiber and 3g protein, plus over 10% of your daily vitamin C needs. This has slightly more fiber, as much iron and almost as much protein as a serving of quinoa.
|Vitamin C (mg)||1.2||4.7||8.3||0|
The cost of potatoes is less than half the cost of quinoa*. Marketing plays a big role in how we interpret the nutritional value of both potatoes and quinoa, despite them having similar nutrition facts.
*according to Walmart Canada pricing
Potatoes as Part of a Plant-Based Diet
Potatoes can be an affordable staple in your plant-based diet. They are incredibly versatile, and can be part of a nutritious breakfast, lunch or dinner. Think about potatoes next time you look for a nutritious source of complex carbs!
Limit the ingredients that turn potatoes into a less nutritious choice, like added oils, excess salt, or dairy products. For delicious and nourishing plant-based potato dishes, keep it simple!
- Oven roasting in olive oil with your favorite herbs and spices. Pair leftover roasted potatoes with a tofu scramble for breakfast.
- Mashing potatoes with steamed carrots or orange sweet potatoes for a boost in color and nutrients.
- Topping a baked potato with a plant-based curry, chili or other saucy dish for an easy and nutritious dinner.
- Leaving the skin on more often! Not only does it add some texture to your dish, but the skin also contains most of the fiber, calcium, iron and potassium in the potato.
In sum, the bad rep given to potatoes has more to do with the cooking method than the vegetable itself. Eating more potatoes can help you save money while getting valuable nutrients like complex carbs, fiber, vitamin C, and even iron.
Limit highly processed potatoes like chips and fries. Make roasted, baked, or mashed potatoes a nutritious staple of your plant-based diet.
What’s your favorite potato dish? Let us know in the comments below!
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